Friday, September 28, 2007

Helping ESL Students Improve Speaking Skills

Most of my private ESL students are very advanced. These students primarily want to improve their speaking skills. They are frustrated with having to repeat themselves to their colleagues. Some try to handle this frustration by sticking to written communications and avoid face-to-face discussions.

After doing an initial Needs Assessment, I decide on the best approach to help my ESL students to improve their speaking skills. Whatever I decide on as the primary focus, I usually draw from three main topics:

(1) Specific sound pronunciation,
(2) Word pronunciation,
(3) Intonation.

This is not to say that there are not other factors in improving one's English speaking skills. There is also vocabulary development (including idioms, slang, reductions, consistent use of contractions, etc.). I use the above three topics when native speakers have trouble understanding my students.

Specific sound pronunciation includes how to make specific sounds of letters. For example, the "th" is often difficult for a lot of non-native speakers. We also discuss the rules for when certain letters are pronounced differently, like how "s" is sometimes pronounced as an "s" and "sometimes as a "z." (See Voiced and Unvoiced Sounds.)

I focus on word pronunciation through conversation practice and having students read aloud during our tutoring sessions.

Intonation is fun. I describe it as the music of the English language. I show students through a "red hat" exercise how putting stress on different parts of a sentence can totally change the meaning of a sentence.

These are the three main areas I focus on to help students be more easily understood by native English speakers, but as I mentioned above, they are not the only issues we work on.


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